Skies Still Looking Stormy for Unionized Airline Workers but United Airlines Is Taking Steps to Reconcile with Employees

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AIRLINE employees are flying high after recently prevailing in their confrontations with management. However, the skies ahead are not necessarily friendly for airborne unionized workers.

The management of United Airlines made a conciliatory gesture to two of its unions by renewing negotiations on Dec. 1 over a possible employee buyout of the carrier. An earlier round of talks broke down on Nov. 12, with the unions asserting that management was inflexible.

Flight attendants at American Airlines, meanwhile, have ridden a strong updraft since Nov. 22, when President Clinton intervened in a five-day strike and compelled American Chairman Robert Crandall to agree to binding arbitration.

Still, many unionized workers are likely to face difficult times due to the prospects for continued losses by the large carriers in the brutally competitive airline business, experts say.

The biggest United States carriers continued their price war Friday by cutting winter fares by up to 35 percent for travel from Jan. 6-March 31, typically a period of low passenger travel.

Mr. Clinton has pledged to help unionized workers by supporting a bill that would bar companies from hiring replacements for strikers. The House has approved the Striker Replacement Bill and it is scheduled to go before the Senate next month, where it is expected to face strenuous opposition.

Still, some analysts question Clinton's commitment to labor, since he recently overlooked the objections of many unions when he pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress.

"It remains to be seen how much effort President Clinton will put in to trying to round up votes for the Striker Replacement Bill," says Irving Bluestone, a professor of labor studies at Wayne State University and former vice president of the United Auto Workers. …